“We have to be mindful of not taking our fans for granted.”
– NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
The landscape of sports is changing. As players gain more power, so does the equity of the fan with ever growing ways in which they can engage with a team. There are only so many signs in an arena and there are only so many spots for activation spaces for partners of sports teams to pop their tent up and get fans engaged in their product or make impressions. The expansion is mostly digital/social and creating new ways to get in-front of fans at home and outside the arena.
Beyond the success of a sports team this is the main way teams are increasing their profits. Selling additional assets to partners. My point being in bringing up all this boring stuff is that the level of which fans choose to engage with teams is what makes them more money. Fans have been told they aren’t necessarily needed in sports and media has played a role in downplaying their importance as well but if the pandemic has taught us anything around sports and events… That is simply not true. That asset talk will come into play later.
Charlotte sports have become the frontier of innovation in supporters groups and what the fan experience truly means. From Roaring Riot to all of the Charlotte FC Supporter groups ( I always hate to name names because there are so many and they all deserve recognition. So to avoid being rude I will be broad) and dare I give ourselves a compliment?
Though they may not reach every fan the groups have done a tremendous job of doing some pretty revolutionary stuff at a grassroots level for a town that is pegged as not being a sports town. Charlotte deserves to pat itself on the back for that. Across Charlotte we truly are a Hornets nest of rebellion and fans are fighting to “CHANGE THE CULTURE”. The oldest sports team in this town is barely in their 30’s and the generation that grew up with these teams have taken the reigns with a vengeance to change the “wine and cheese” narrative. This city grows so fast that I often think we do not take a moment to marvel in what has happened because we are eager for the next task. So this is my “kudos to you Charlotte!”. When we started Bring Back The Buzz 11-12 years ago we couldn’t have imagined this city would be doing this from soccer to football to basketball and beyond.
That being said, we’ve still got some work to do. “what’s next?”
Last year for the first time in about 5 years my brother and I left the bottom bowl of Spectrum Arena and went back up top. There were several factors but the driving force for us was that it rarely felt like we were surrounded by “fans”. Up top we sit next to the same fans every night who care about the team and for some being their took sacrifices. They love this team. They become friends you see every night and talk about family with and have conversations about the roster and rotations I’ve rarely had down low. Also, the chances of me being asked to sit in the 4th quarter when the game is tied with 4 minutes left severely drops.
Now I’m not saying there aren’t passionate fans down below because we know them by name as a fanbase from Jameet, Charlotte Man, Sombrero Man etc. But the issue is they are speckled around the lower bowl. We’ve all made the jokes about how the lower bowl has a corporate vibe. Companies giving their best sales man of the month tickets to the game and he shows up wearing a blue and yellow polo unaware we are even playing the Pacers. We lack a real presence as fans in the paint.
On our trip to Atlanta for Crown Club pictured above we had an interesting experience. We were organized and loud in the upper bowl. plenty of Hornets fans in the arena. similar to how we feel sometimes in Charlotte when we look around and see a lot of opposing fans… The only thing that took us out of the game was (honestly we were losing bad BUT) that Atlanta had a supporters section that drowned us out because they had more numbers (home), were together, were organized and close to the court.
Next, we went to NOLA…
This time in New Orleans we sat down low next to the basket. Not a massive amount of people. about 30 in our section and 40+ around the arena.
We took over Smoothie King Center. New Orleans fans and media took to twitter to talk about how loud we were. We were getting messages from people hearing us through the broadcast as Dell and Eric commented on the presence. Sam Farber mentioned it on the radio broadcast BUT most importantly I could see the shock in the Hornets players eyes. I’m not gonna say those fans changed the outcome of the game but I will say they put a little bounce in the player’s steps. There were less of us BUT it sure didn’t feel like it.
Just a handful of fans in New Orleans did that. Imagine what could be done at the Hive with a similar collection of people to lead chants, stand all game and ensure this small market still has hope for a home court advantage when the Knicks, Lakers and Celtics of the league come to town.
Some of you may recall the Cat Crazies of the Bobcats days… a seven win season was not kind to those faithful warriors but it proves there has been a seed of this desire for quite some time in this city. Now just is the proper season to water and nurture that if we want to “Change the Culture”. We’ve seen the success of such an operation across town and even Tepper mentioned his desire to bring a section for the Panthers one day in the future.
The issue with the Panthers and Hornets is 20-30 years of season tickets, corporate sponsors seats etc. that you would need in order to carve out this section. Well Atlanta proved to me it’s possible if the desire from the team is there.
I think your average fan can see the benefit of such a section especially with recent evidence. The issue is the aforementioned desire from a team. Which brings in my opening paragraphs. Where can the fans create that desire? By the section being a partner branded asset that the team can sell.
I can already hear the groans but when some thing is dug in so deeply for so long we do not have the luxury of being a Charlotte FC who had a section from the very beginning. It will be a grind. The sponsored asset is likely needed to move the needle for the Hornets.
The key to the success of this is that this is a relationship of all parties and in order to succeed needs to be authentic in nature. The Hornets and partner must understand that the value in this section IS the fan and if you are going to have a “supporters section” the supporters need to be involved.
THIS was not an article on HOW but more about the WHY so I will not get into the details of 70% STH and %30 and all the logistics at this point. This article was to articulate that Charlotte is growing up and we have innovative ideas on how we want to support our teams. We would like that opportunity to build our culture especially when it can be a win on and off the floor for the Hornets.